Looking to be rested and re-energized, the Ohio State men’s hockey team is set to take on its archrival.
Coming off their first open weekend since early January, the Buckeyes (15-10-3, 5-6-3) return to action this weekend with a home-and-home series against Michigan (15-10-3, 7-6-1), including a bit of a change in scenery.
The Buckeyes were last in action Feb. 15 when they lost, 4-2, to No. 8 Wisconsin at home. But prior to that loss against the Badgers, the Buckeyes were on a six-game unbeaten run.
Coach Steve Rohlik said the weekend without games has helped some of the players with injuries recover as the team enters “the final stretch.”
“The biggest thing is to get re-energized,” Rohlik said. “At this time of year, the most important thing is trying to get a few guys healthy and trying to get a few guys back.”
Sophomore forward Anthony Greco also cited overcoming injury woes as a positive outcome of the time off, even if it means he and his teammates don’t get to do what they enjoy most: play hockey games.
“As a player, once you get into a rhythm, you’d like to play every weekend and keep the momentum going,” Greco said. “But I think for us it was a good time to relax and let some bumps and bruises heal.”
An extremely competitive Big Ten conference schedule might be a contributing factor when it comes to the injuries OSU has sustained over the course of the season. It enters this weekend in fourth place, just one spot and three points behind its next opponents, the Wolverines.
With only six games left in the regular season, every point is vital when it comes to tournament seeding. Junior forward Tanner Fritz said the team can’t wait to get the final leg of the season underway.
“This is the most fun part of the season, and definitely the most important part for us,” Fritz said. “These next three series can put us anywhere from fourth to second place (in conference), so they’re really going to be some huge weekends.”
Meanwhile, the Wolverines are coming off a win in their last game against last place Penn State.
But much like the Buckeyes, their most recent result wasn’t indicative of their form as of late — before the victory against the Nittany Lions, the men from Ann Arbor had lost four straight.
Regardless of their play over the past few weeks, Rohlik said the Wolverines pose a threat, especially considering they beat the Buckeyes in two one-goal decisions Nov. 29 and Dec. 2.
“We played two tight games against them but now I think our team knows that if we’re in those tight games we’ve got to win them,” Rohlik said. “These guys (the Wolverines) are a very good team and we know we’re going to have to play our best hockey to beat them.”
This weekend is different not only because it deviates from the normal Friday-Saturday doubleheader schedule in favor of a Friday-Sunday home-and-home, but also because of one of the venues. Instead of its normal home of the Schottenstein Center, OSU is set to host Michigan Sunday at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.
The change of scenery might have excited the players, but Fritz said the team knows what its focus is.
“It’s such a nice rink and a really great atmosphere so we’re hoping we can get a good amount of fans in,” Fritz said. “But the most important thing is getting three points for the team. Everyone’s looking forward to it and it should be a lot of fun.”
Friday’s game is set to start at 6:30 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Mich., while Sunday’s game is set for 1 p.m. in Columbus.